by Larry Lowe
On January 31, 1971 at 4:04:02 pm local time, Apollo 14 lifted off from Cape Kennedy, carrying Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell into history. When the Command Module Kitty Hawk splashed down in the South Pacific on February 9, the world changed, but not for a reason anyone other than Ed Mitchell could realize at the time.
In the ensuing 41 years, the travails and accomplishments of Apollo 14 have become the stuff of American aerospace legend: the difficulty docking with the LEM prior to trans-lunar injection, Mitchell’s emergency reprogramming of the LEM flight computer, the most precise lunar landing to date, the heartbreaking decision to deploy the second EVA research package 30 meters short of the unseen rim of Cone Crater, the first lunar Olympics, a successful completion of the nearly disastrous Apollo 13 mission profile.
It was a story that epitomized the can-do legerdemain with which the Apollo program gave America a world cultural identity in the late ’60’s and early ’70‘s. It was a triumph of engineering, science, training and ‘right stuff’ grace under pressure. At the time, the ramifications of the mission to the understanding of human consciousness were the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. Except the mind of Edgar Mitchell.
Shepard and Roosa are gone, leaving Mitchell as the last living member of the crew. Which is a good thing for humanity, because in the post Apollo years, he has dedicated his life to a far more complex journey.
And therein lies a story of the unexpected benefits of exploration…